Our interview by Rafy Mediavilla with Ashley Soto Paniagua & Dani Adaliz creators of the Web Series “Chuchi & Adaliz” as we speak about their characters in the series, and bring their Puerto Rican spicy flavor to SXSW 2023.
Adaliz gets caught insider trading after a series of plane crashes that tank the stock market questionably align with the pending merger at VUELO Airlines. A connection to the Chairman helps Adaliz avoid jail time, but she does lose her job then find solace in her childhood bestie Chuchi.
Set in the Bay area, buddy comedy CHUCHI & ADALIZ is a five episode single-camera digital series that follows childhood besties who, despite having a shared racial and ethnic identity as AfroPuerto Ricans, couldn’t be more different than each other as adults. When Adaliz loses her high powered corporate job in San Francisco and moves in with Chuchi in Oakland, the audience watches avatars of San Francisco (Adaliz) and Oakland (Chuchi) and how their socioeconomic differences shape behavior, as San Francisco is 54.4% more expensive to live in than Oakland. They’re in for a rude awakening when they realize that what brought them together as kids isn’t enough to keep them together as adults.
I’ve been covering South by Southwest for the past four years in a row. How are those post-SXSW 2023 feelings going?
I mean, for me, it was I was very nervous before because this is like my first big festival and I’ve been working a lot, you know, like I’ve been working really hard and working a lot and like to be at this big festival and to know that there were some of my friends there to shout out to Cristian Mercado. He had a feature film there that had Anthony Mackie in it, and it’s called If You Were the Last, I was very, very good. There were a couple of other Puerto Rican directors and producers just there hanging out, shout out to Perez, all these other people. So, it was really great to see them and to be included with such like to be included with such talented people, you know what I mean? From all over. And it was very affirming for me and very.
I don’t know. It was like It’s kind of heartbreaking because I had to let go of that part of myself that didn’t want to believe in myself. And I had to now grab on to this new persona that I need to be to be successful and enjoy the work and feel worthy to be there. And that was really special about something. And it was good to do with your friend, right? Like to do it with like, one of, like your really good friends that like, helped like, get you there and stuff like that is just like, really special. And I’m just really happy that we had that opportunity together. I’m really grateful.
Ashley Soto Paniagua:
Yeah, I mean, it was, it was cool to go to like free movies all week, like movies and TVs. Like, oh my god, like, yes, we do this all the time, please. And then for ours to be one of the free movies or free TV shows like ours. Yeah. It was so much fun. The first screening was, like, nerve-wracking. Like there were seven you know, there are seven projects in our block. We don’t know the order. We don’t know when ours is going to come on.
And everybody else in their projects, they don’t know when theirs is going to come on. So, everybody’s just tense waiting. And so, we’re like, you know, it was so nervous. You could just feel the nervous energy. But then the second screening, because we already knew the order, we knew the questions, we knew, we knew. Everybody knew. We met everybody. Everyone was so relaxed. Everyone was laughing at the jokes. it was like, okay, good. We’re funny you know, and then we, you know, people are just like, happy to be there. So, the energy was just so different once we got all our nervous energy out. So, so yeah, that, that was just like, just like a really distinct sort of difference.
How did this project come about? What prompted you guys that told you guys that we need to do this?
I guess like to answer the first part of the question, like what prompted the genesis of the project as we were on an Afro-Latina panel together, shout out to Nadia Simone on Black Teena, Follow her. We met each other there and I was just really like, I was enamored by Ashley. I was just like when I’d watched her speak, I was like, wow, this woman is so confident and she’s so successful. And she said she said a quote that has stuck with me forever.
And she said, closed mouths don’t get fed. You know, like you must, like, go for what you want. And I was like, man, I love her. And so, of course, I followed her on Instagram. I stalked her. We followed each other. And then I had liked this other project that I’ve been very scared to write that I’m actually starting to right now. And I showed it to her and she’s like, this is fantastic. Let’s talk and meet up and work together. And I was like. I was starstruck. I was like, wow, this lady wants to work with me. You know what I mean? And so, we talked, and we became fast friends.
And then she was like, Yeah, I have this like, project idea that I want to help want to create with you. And then shooting at Elise was born, she brought on her niece, who was also our writer’s assistant and co-producer, Jocelyn Paniagua. She’s amazing and we were just talking online for two years and did like the gnarly thing, the gnarly media market, and got a lot of good feedback. But, you know, like those things like they’re not always like, sure if they like to want to fund you or whatever. So, we just kind of said, we’ll just do it ourselves.
And Ashley wrote a lot of emails. She, she, she wrote a lot of emails, got us a lot of funding has done like all the, the stuff that I hate doing and wouldn’t even know how to do in the first place, and got us to where we are. And now we’re here and you know, we made something beautiful and like, I know it’s a group effort, but I’ve been seeing this time and time again all hats off to Ashley because she’s done things that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing. And I’m really grateful to have been a part of this experience.
Ashley Soto Paniagua:
This story hinges on that I’m Afro-Puerto Rican. My dad’s off Puerto Rican from the island, from Rio Piedras, shout out to Mario Venezuela. Because we have this very distinct, you know, specific similarity because one parent is black, and one parent isn’t. And then we came out looking where we confuse everyone when we walk into a room. So, it felt like a very distinct experience that we both shared. And it was like, well, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase this experience on screen and showcase that while they have, they’re very similar on paper, they’re still very distinct people.
And that means we’re not just because we’re on the same on paper doesn’t mean that we’re all like robots, like, you know, behaving in the same way. And so, these characters, we fashion them around. Chuchi is an avatar for Oakland, Adaliz is an avatar for San Francisco. So, it is very distinct social and economic differences. And you put them in a room together and it explodes. And so, this is sort of the unraveling of that friendship. And I felt like, you know, luckily Danny, like it was enthusiastic about it and luckily SXSW 2023 was too, so you know we’re just happy to be here and yes, the genesis sort of just like I want to do this thing and I’ve been wanting to do this thing and I finally found a person to do it with.
I want to talk about the characters. How important was that for you guys to make sure that we maintain that Puerto Rican heritage as a defining tone of the character without being too in your face, and balancing it all out?
I think for me as the director, I wanted to make sure that it was in the body language because we’re so body first as Puerto Ricans, and we used a lot of our local slang. I wanted to make sure that we showed not just stereotypical Puerto Rican, but also just like it’s ingrained in us. It’s something that’s like, you know, it’s something that we grew up with. It’s something that is a part of us like the way that we move our bodies. It’s something it’s a, it’s part of the way that we view the world even. And I think that in the show, we, we see that like even in the exaggeration, like, I don’t know if you noticed, but in the first episode there is an exaggeration of like the white bosses, you know what I mean? like how we always like, imitate those people and like from that point of view and then like, she’s just staying very still, you know, the whole time. So, you could see that she is very much Puerto Rican still in that stillness and in that white.
Which Ashley did beautifully because. Adaliz is a difficult character. She’s very nuanced. She’s very difficult. She’s not a complete monster, you know, like, she had to grow up quickly, you know? And I think it shows. And like, we got to have a little bit of empathy for that. But yeah, we wanted to show those dynamics. And then with Chuchi just being like spazzy and like excited like that, she’s like, she’s chaos, you know, like, okay, we’re going to do all this. It’s going to be so much fun; you know? So those are the ways that I think we tried to ingrain that, like ingrained our culture into that.
Ashley Soto Paniagua:
Is an also lot of visuals, like the Easter Eggs. When, you know, there’s obviously the domino, the capicu, when Chuchi is doing the prank, calling my character holding a pillow. And in the next episode, Danny’s character is carrying a tote it has a Puerto Rican flag on it. And then the shirt that I wear in the next episode said Boricua. So, a lot of like little details that we were super intentional.
And a lot of those I got like from the island when I went, you know, last year to visit family and stuff. And so, like it was, there was a lot of like those little details. So, we also had these visual cues to feed into the story as well. And then, just writing in, you know, even that montage. We had to do a reshoot because unfortunately, that’s just the nature of what happens. But it was great because, I mean, like Ashley was like, you know, think we need to reshoot This one scene was like, I’m so glad you said that because I was feeling the same way. So, then she wrote an amazing, like, quick scene that ended up being perfect with some room for improv. And I’m just like, I think I’m really glad we did it because I think that that is like the heart of the story at the end of the day. So, in a weird way, we’re grateful for that.
See the full interview below: